Monday, June 1, 2009

what is a talent?

Now, I can think of ten parables without thumbing books. I would say about four everyone would list (The Good Shepherd, The Good Samaritan, The Prodigal Son, Poor Lazarus [or as the english say, Dives and Lazarus]). There is a parable of the ten talents. What does it mean? The first logical question is--what is a talent? [if you have followed this journal, you may notice there is no illustration]

Now, the way we understand 'talent' is that of aptitude of ability, or gift. That meaning has been interpolated from a parable of Jesus. At that time it had no such meaning. A thousand years later, it still did not. What meaning it did have for centuries before, was that of mass and weight [of money]. There was no one coin, and the exact number and composition of coin changed. There is ambiguity.

The minimum is three thousand shekels, at times--six thousand. These shekels could be silver, or they could be gold. Gold is worth more than silver. (The US used to have silver dollars, a comparable sized gold coin, was a double eagle, twenty dollars [both about 90% true]. At the end of the 19th century, a major political issue was the failed demand to return to the old ratio, between silver and gold, at 16:1.) Saint Jerome understood a talent to be ten thousand gold shekels.

Now, what was a shekel? One shekel was a tetradrachma (four drachmas). One drachma was equal to one denarius. One denarius or drachma was a day's wage.*

There are 365 days in a year. There is no work to be done on the sabbath, there are 52 sabbaths a year. There are some holidays where no work is done. Roughly three hundred work days a year for the fully employed. How many days did the average non slave work?

The maximum a laborer would make per annum would be 300 denarii. A roman soldier's salary was less than 300 denarii. The smallest talent is 12,000 denarii silver (the largest 40,000). It would take 40 years of full employment, to equal wages, of one talent. The average life expectancy was less than 40 years. The probability of a servant (read slave) or laborer to have created a talent approached zero.

Jesus' audience were the poor. They would never see a talent, certainly not have one. A talent was a fortune, because of what a talent means to-day, the operative word would be akin to fortune, or a million (or a bazillion) dollars. What master would trust a servant with that, while he was away, for an unspecified time? What servant would stay?
But he that had received the one talent, came and said: Lord, I know that thou art a hard man; thou reapest where thou hast not sown, and gatherest where thou hast not strewed. And being afraid I went and hid thy talent in the earth: behold here thou hast that which is thine. And his lord answering, said to him: Wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sow not, and gather where I have not strewed: Thou oughtest therefore to have committed my money to the bankers, and at my coming I should have received my own with usury. -- Matthew xxv. 24-27.
The servant accuses, and the man admits, that he is a 'hard man'. This hard man 'reaps and gathers' where he neither 'sown nor strewed'. He takes profits where he never worked, is that not a damning statement? He then abuses his fearful servant. The servant is told, that he, should have engaged in usury. Usury was forbidden by religious law.

Now, we know of some current american exegeses of this passage, and now, there are four legitimate gospels. The prosperity gospel, the gospel according to Milton Friedman, the gospel of Adam Smith, and the gospel of Harvard Business School are not them. What those, who, heard Jesus spake knew this 'lord' could not be G*d. To suggest that would have been blasphemy. Perhaps, the parable is one of the hard sayings of Jesus. He did want people to think, consider and ruminate. Or perhaps some, people of to-day, form their ideas into their interpretations. Perhaps one ought to read the fathers and doctors of the church, and not parrot the charlatans on television, or the mouthfoamers on the radio.

Under the old rite this parable, there are some 33, was not read at mass. To-day it is in cycle A, the 33rd week of ordinary time, and in the shorter form the portion quoted is not read.
*And having agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard.
conventione autem facta cum operariis ex denario diurno misit eos in vineam suam -- Matthew xx. 2.
confer: the householder, here who, hired labourers for the vineyard, with this 'hard man'.
noto bene: a shekel was multi-thousand, also legion was
multi-thousand. In the roman army, a legion was four to six thousand.
And he asked him: What is thy name? And he saith to him: My name is Legion, for we are many.--Mark v. 9.
And Jesus asked him, saying: What is thy name? But he said: Legion. Because many devils were entered into him.--Luke viii. 30.

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